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Thursday, 27 April 1972
Page: 1406

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) - I wish to speak on somewhat the same subject - the loss of privileges of members of the Senate, and the way in which Senators are treated. I also agree that some people are too smart by half. I was very concerned with the treatment that was dealt out to me last evening, when I was refused my rights under the Standing Orders. I was most concerned also by some remarks that were made at question time today. As a result of what was said at question time today, it appears that there is some authority in the Senate who is acting without authority. Therefore, 1 believe that the position demands some criticism, and possibly a long debate. It is unfortunate, Mr President, that my complaint somewhat involves you. I am raising the matter of the loss of privileges of senators. I am most concerned about this matter, which relates to the treatment of senators in this House.

Since I have been a member of the Senate I have fought governments and individuals, and I have urged members of my own party to stand up for their rights. I have done this to ensure that the rights of individuals would not be taken away. I have always maintained that the Standing Orders were the laws of this House, and that Standing Orders exist for the purpose of getting through the business and for protecting senators. I had the belief, perhaps mistakenly, that the President's duty was to protect the back bencher or the individual senator, and to see that he had the full protection of the Standing Orders. This morning, Mr President, I questioned your authority when you made certain remarks towards the conclusion of question time. Also, I had questioned the treatment to which I took objection last evening when I was refused my rights under the Standing Orders after seeking to speak during the debate on the motion for the adjournment of the Senate.

Mr President,much to my surprise I have found that there is no authority to give you the right to say, near the end of question time, that you will permit only 2 or 3 or 4 more questions. I have found that you have no authority to reduce question time, and if any honourable senator insists upon asking a question, he is entitled to go ahead and ask it. Perhaps I am too sensitive, and put meanings to words that are not intended, but I contend that when a person says that he will permit only 2 more questions, he can only mean that only 2 more questions will be permitted. 1 think honourable senators will always co-operate in curtailing question time when it is in the interests of the Senate so to do. But 1 am concerned about such action being prompted by the belief of one individual in the Senate that the Senate was getting weary of questions being asked. Any honourable senator who is weary of questions being asked has the right to move that further questions be placed on the notice paper. I think we all would revolt against any action being taken to curtail the asking of questions in the Senate simply because a particular individual is getting weary of them.

Mr President,I question the desire to restrict question time. The answer you gave me this morning that the Senate has a heavy work load because of committee work again raises the question I have been asking for some time: ls the committee system taking over the role of the Senate? Here we have another example of the work load of the committee system causing some curtailment of the rights of honourable senators. The sooner we examine the operations of these committees and compare the benefits derived from them with their detrimental effects on honourable senators the better it will be for the Senate. Mr President, you also quoted a complaint by Senator Willesee about a cluttering up of the notice paper. It is true that the notice paper is being cluttered up. But that has been partly due to the fact that up until this week we have been in the habit of running home every Thursday afternoon and there has been no attempt to lighten the load on the notice paper by stopping here and discussing certain questions. There has been a desire to get away from this place. If no-one is prepared to stay in the Parliament and debate the questions on the notice paper we will go on cluttering up the notice paper and the fact that the notice paper is cluttered up will bs used as an excuse to curtail certain other rights of honourable senators.

I accept your explanation, Mr President, that you saw the Minister for Air (Senator Drake-Brockman) first last night when the adjournment debate was closed, despite the fact that I was on my feet. But I think that situation could have been readily rectified when 1 drew your attention to the fact that I too had risen. But you were not prepared to do that, Mr President. You insisted on the Minister for Air speaking because you had given him the call. 1 took umbrage at your attitude because only a week or so ago in the passageways of this building you told me that you had to find some way of stopping me from attacking a Minister after he had spoken in an adjournment debate. I justified my actions by pointing out that I was within the Standing Orders. I utilise the Standing Orders to the best of my ability and if there is a determination to stop me it should be done by changing the Standing Orders.

I think that it is most necessary that the rights which honourable senators have under the Standing Orders should be preserved. 1 have fought right through against the curtailment of the rights of honourable senators. There has been a further curtailment of those rights as recently as tonight as a result of a debate on the important subject of giving precedence to the con.sidertion of reports of committees of the Senate on Thursdays. Some time ago we had written into out Standing Orders a provision that no honourable senator shall speak for more than half an hour in a debate on a Wednesday, that is, while we are on the air, now, the maximum period each Thursday for the consideration of reports of standing committees having been fixed at 2 hours, no honourable senator will be entitled to speak on such reports for more than half an hour instead of the normal one hour. This is another example of how the rights of honourable senators are being encroached upon. If we do not succeed in maintaining our rights in a vote of the Senate on the adoption of certain recommendations of the Standing Orders Committee we will have to accept the consequences. It is too much to bear that, despite the fact that more restrictions are being placed upon us by the Standing Orders, we have a President who comes in here and seeks to curtail our activities because he is of the opinion that the Senate is getting weary.

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